Mad Men, Season 3

Week 1: Pete vs. Ken
Talking television.
Aug. 17 2009 10:08 AM

Mad Men, Season 3

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Week 1: Pete vs. Ken

I hate to disappoint you, John, but I don't think Don will be dreaming up Dunkin's "time to make the donuts" campaign this season: The slogan was first used in 1982. Maybe Season 4 will start in the early '80s, with a wizened Don hitting on a grown-up Sally's grad school friends?

Let's hope not. Season 3, it turns out, begins somewhere in the spring of 1963, six or seven months after we last left our characters. This is an underwhelming jump of the chronological needle, given the secrecy surrounding when the season would be set. But let's count our blessings. For one thing, the time frame raises the intriguing possibility that Weiner—who has set Mad Men's two season finales thus far during two momentous historical events, the 1960 election and the Cuban missile crisis—will close out Season 3 with the assassination of JFK. (Anybody want to bet an old-fashioned on it?) More delightfully, the time shift lets us witness the fallout of Sterling Cooper's takeover by PPL.

Julia Turner Julia Turner

Julia Turner is the editor in chief of Slate and a regular on Slate's Culture Gabfest podcast.

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This British invasion has given us two sensational new villains: the wry, canny, axe-wielding Lane Pryce (played by Jared Harris, who's so good it makes me regret not watching his other show, Fringe), and his officious secretary John Hooker, whom Peggy has nicknamed Moneypenny. Were you as surprised as I was when Joan defended Hooker after Peggy mocked him, even managing, later that day, to finagle him an office? I couldn't decide whether she was sincere. She might be looking out for Hooker because she relates professionally to another top-dog underling or because, with her slightly old-fashioned take on gender dynamics (she is still engaged, after all), she genuinely believes a male secretary, unlike a female one, deserves an office and a "girl." But maybe she was just setting him up for the dressing-down he receives at the episode's end.

Pryce, meanwhile, deftly creates what may be the show's best rivalry yet, firing someone called Burt Peterson—is there a Mad Men term for "redshirt"?—and making Pete Campbell and Ken Cosgrove co-heads of Accounts. There was so much to savor here, I couldn't decide what I liked best: Pete's spastic dance of victory when he believes the prize gig is his alone; the tight close-up on his rage-glazed eyes when he learns he must share the title with Ken; Ken's implacable amiability in their confrontation after the meeting to divvy up accounts. Perhaps most tantalizing was the suggestion that Ken—who had the self-possession to ask what the new position paid before accepting it—might be better than Pete at the job. I wonder how far Weiner will take this notion that Pete's seething ambition is a handicap, while Ken's blithe affability is an asset that may bring untold success. Ken has thus far been more a foil than a character—his triumphs have made the boys jealous in the past—and I hope this plotline pushes him to the fore. And I must ask: Is it possible here not to be rooting for Ken?

Before I turn this over to Patrick, though, I want to defend the Baltimore plotline. You're right, John, that the incredible cockblocking fire alarm and Don's urgent response to it were absurd. (Maybe fire drills were less common then? I found myself thinking, lamely. So they know it's a real fire?) At the very least, poor Sal should have got some before he got caught. But I loved Sal's amazement at Don's effortless dinner-table lies—was he repulsed or did he wish he was as handy with an alter ego? And the weakness of Don's "Limit Your Exposure" flasher campaign—which did seem an odd fit for stodgy London Fog—didn't bother me, since that speech was all about the moment that preceded it. Don says to Sal, "Can I ask you something?" Sal looks stricken, knowing what Don saw the night before, waiting for an inquisition. And then Don just makes the pitch. The slogan itself is just patter underscoring the palpable relief on Salvatore's face. If there's one thing Don understands and respects, it's a secret. He's kept Peggy's, and he'll keep Sal's, too.

Patrick, I'll leave you to field John's question about whether Don hesitated before putting the moves on that stewardess. (I think he may have, but perhaps, like me, he was just trying to figure out why she looked so much like Kate Bosworth.)

Ready for cross-check,
Julia

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